THE BIG LOOPHOLE - Complications Ensue
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Thursday, June 09, 2005

Unfortunately I was in New York last weekend and missed meeting with the WGC's negotiating committee, who kindly flew in from Toronto to meet with the Quebec membership. But I'd like to second Doug Taylor's point about the biggest loophole in the IPA. (That's the WGC's agreement with the producers; equivalent to the WGA's Minimum Basic Agreement.)

Producers who sign the IPA -- basically all the serious producers -- are obliged to work only with WGC writers. If a writer isn't WGC, the producer is still obliged to sign a WGC contract with the writer. The writer can then join the WGC.

However, if the writer is not in the Guild, nothing prevents the producer from doing the contract through a subsidiary company that is not signatory. The writer can now be paid less than scale, because he's not working with a signatory producer, and has no way to join the Guild and demand scale.

Doug went through that experience with a large production and distribution company up here. He was not Guild, the prodco was WGC-signatory, so rather than paying him scale and doing a WGC deal, the producer had him sign with a "numbered company."

I went through it about a dozen years ago in LA. I had written a script on a project that was being bought, as a go project, by a studio. They had to buy the script, obviously. But I wasn't WGA. So rather than the studio buying the script, a company owned by the studio bought the script -- and presumably assigned all rights to the production entity, which licensed distribution rights to the studio.

Doug asks why the WGC -- and for that matter the WGA -- can't close this little Catch-22. You can't join either Guild without a contract with a Guild signatory company. But the company won't sign a WGC deal with you unless you're a member.

A simple fix would be to allow anyone to join the guild, at least temporarily. It does not hurt the Guilds to have additional members. It only strengthens them. Producers generally accept that they have to sign WGA or WGC deals with WGA and WGC members. Is there some kind of legal reason (ahem, Craig) why the Guild can't allow people in when they have a pending, but uncompleted deal? If there is a cost associated with each member (one that's not already covered by the entrance fee), then the new Guild member could be given a provisional membership that doesn't give him benefits -- other than the obvious benefit of salary protection.

The alternative would be to insist that producers agree not to buy or commission scripts through non-signatory subsidiaries. (The legalese would something to the effect that signatory corporations, and their assigns, are not allowed to receive cinematic or allied rights derived from any script written by a non-member. Or something like that.) But that would require negotiation, while changing our own membership rules shouldn't be anyone else's business but our own.

The loophole doesn't just hurt the wanna-be member, though personally, it cost me around $35,000 at the time. It hurts the Guild, because it allows producers to think they can end-run around the IPA (and in the States, the MBA).

How about it, guys?

UPDATE: Doug talked to the WGC. Their response was a tad defeatist: "We'd have to strike to get this." And of course, no one wants to strike for the sake of non-members. But it's not just for non-members. It's for making it harder for signatory prodcos to hire people off-IPA. And we wouldn't have to strike. We just make it easier to join the Guild. No?

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2 Comments:

The WGA MBA states that if a company is partially owned by a signatory (can't remember the percentage...possibly 33%?) then the sig must oblige their subsidiary to adhere to the MBA.

The way around this loophole is simple, BTW, for us in the states. If you're in the WGA, you can't work for a non-sig.

By Anonymous Craig Mazin, at 1:50 AM  

"the sig must oblige their subsidiary" -- Then how was it that the studio that bought my script was able to do a non-sig deal through a non-signatory company?

By Blogger Alex Epstein, at 12:06 PM  

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